Wales a country of Whisky, Wine, Wonderful Roads & Scenery

When you plan a tour 15 months in advance and you’ve had a long winter without much in the way of motorcycle touring all you can hope for is that your first tour of the 2019 season is blessed with decent weather….. and we most definitely were with blue skies and no rain for 4 fantastic days of touring through Mid Wales, the Snowdonia National Park and the Welsh borders.

Everywhere looks better when the sun shines we know that, but with the clear skies the scenery and every changing landscapes we experienced on this particular tour were outstanding.  We took our group to a vineyard on the english / welsh border in the vale of Kerry – KerryVale Vineyard always give us a terrific welcome, the vines were low on this visit but will be in full “bloom” ready for harvest when we next visit in September, it surprised a lot of our group that wine could be grown in this area but the romans started it at Wroxeter many moons ago!  It sounds like we were on some sort of boozy tour given that the following day we visited Penderyn Whisky and had organised for our group to have a full tour of the distillery.  It was extremely informative and given that we were riding bikes, they very kindly gave everyone a taster bottle to have in the hotel later that evening (it went down well that’s for sure!!).

With the weather being so good we saw more motorbikes out and about than we have for a number of weeks, the good roads in Wales help bring riders into the country, supporting all the local cafes because of course there is nothing better during a ride-out than a brew and a piece of cake 🙂  and if you want to check out the welsh fruit cake “Bara Brith” we can recommend the one at Cafe Cletwr – a superb community run cafe / shop and meeting centre.

Our routes over the tour took us across the Berwyn Mountains, along the coast road towards Aberdovey, we passed several lakes and had a photo stop at Clywedog Reservoir which was sparkling in the sunlight for us.  Rode over the Brecon Beacons on some very empty roads as can be seen here – mind you that’s because all of the cars were crammed into one area at the foot of Pen-y-Fan where you could see hundreds of walkers making their way up to the summit – a beautiful day for it too 🙂

We visit Wales again later this year on our Lakes & Mountains of Wales tour in September, we’ll be riding through similar areas but will be further into the Snowdonia National park on that one and we have fingers crossed that the weather will be just as good on that tour too 🙂

 

Our review of the Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT

The Versys 1000 has been our touring bike of choice for 8 years now, we have written before about the many reasons we have continued to use these machines, comfort, reliability, fuel consumption and carrying capacity being just a few, so when Kawasaki announced that a new version the SE GT was coming out in 2019 we were hooked and having seen it at MotorcycleLive in November 2018 we put an order in for one which we collected on the 1st of March, (pictured here with Paul and Liam from J&S at Oakmere).  If the first “running in” mileage is anything to go by we are in for a lot of fun as we go touring over the coming months.

Kawasaki have made significant enhancements to this model compared to our 2017 / 2018 Versys 1000’s (having said that we still rate the “older” models very highly and are continuing to run the others on tour this year).  It is difficult to know where to begin with the changes made.  Putting the electronics to one side, the other detailing is impressive, the new designed screen for example – as can be seen here the top image is of the 2017 model which has easy height adjustment, but the 2019 bike has a bigger screen with more air flow.  On some of our previous Versys we have had an aftermarket taller screen but in hot weather that had the draw back of very little airflow whereas this new design will offer both the protection and airflow we need.

The handguards have been well thought out offering much more protection as can also be seen from the above photo, unfortunately due to the bracketing etc., on the 2017 handlebars the new style guards will not fit (we did ask!!)

Then there is the exhaust, more compact than previous with a cool sound particularly at low speed, reminds us of the sound eminating from some of the Z1000 SX Tourers clients have had on tour with us 🙂

The colour has to be mentioned, as can be seen in this photo it has a deeper tone to it than the 2017 / 2018 green.  Then there are the decals which the Versys 650 models have had for a while now but added to the side panels of the 1000cc model it is striking.

We have opted for the SE GT version, the electronics are top class, the dash for example is clear and can be set up in various modes depending on your preference.  The Kawasaki Cornering Management system is outstanding.  The electronic suspension is easy to operate with 4 riding modes – Sport, Road, Rain and Rider and over the first two days of riding we have had it set up for 2 up with luggage, 1 up with luggage and 1 up no luggage all at the flick of a button.  We are still running in the machine before it’s first service booked in for mid March but have already covered 350 miles and the handling is sublime.  The quickshifter is a superb addition and allows for seamless gear changing during acceleration.

Having covered the above mileage the Versys has now had it’s first wash!  This has given us an opportunity to spot other refinements that have been added to the machine.  The hugger and chain guard are slightly different together with and enhanced swinging arm that you may not have noticed when first looking at the bike.

The 2019 touring season is nearly upon us and this is certainly a bike which will create smiles for all of those miles 🙂 🙂

The 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT

So here’s the thing, we go away for a week of winter sun and see from social media platforms that Kawasaki UK are having their Official European Media launch for the new 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura 🙂

We set off on the Wednesday for a visit to the south of the island of Fuerteventura and on our return through the mountains that afternoon we see one of the new bikes riding towards us!  The roads they had chosen for the ride were superb, technical tight turns in some places opening out to sweeping bends all with spectacular scenery and under pure blue skies – they could not have had a better day for testing the new bikes.

Fortunately for us we were at one of the stunning view points on the Betancuria road when a few more Versys could be seen approaching and

one in particular being tested by John Westlake of Bike magazine pulled in to the same car park giving us a superb opportunity to see the bike not only in action but to ask him how he was finding it.   He was clearly enjoying the performance of the bike especially on the roads of Fuerteventura.

Whilst on the stand with Kawasaki UK at MotorcycleLive last November we were able to see the SE GT version on the stand but seeing it out on the road was something else.  We already have one on order to be collected ahead of our 2019 touring season and having been able to see this machine on the roads it was designed for has left us in no doubt it was the right decision 🙂 🙂 

 

 

Riding in the Winter – what to do for warm hands!!

In previous winter blogs we’ve talked about heated grips and handlebar muffs but this time we are discussing heated gloves – Gerbing ones to be exact purchased at MotorcycleLive in November 2018 and based on recent winter riding they were money well spent 🙂  They were purchased specifically for Jan who is “nesh” at the best of times refusing to remove jacket and trouser liners until its at least 20 degrees!!!  Over a decade ago now Jan had EXO2 heated gloves, fairly new product at the time which came with a controller which fitted onto the handlebar, good at the time but  in 2010 a change of bike which came complete with heated grips resulted in the gloves being archived.

In December 2014 Jan purchased some Oxford Rain Seal muffs which continued to be used for winter riding until the winter of 2017/18, these provided excellent wind and rain protection and allowed riding with heated grips on low and summer gloves.  The upgrade by Kawasaki on the design of the hand guards on the Versys 1000 in 2016/17 meant that the muffs were difficult to put on and more importantly remove and after much research it was decided to go back to gloves.  We have the XR-12 Heated Gloves with the longer cuff, this decision was made to make it easier for the gloves to fit with the Dane jacket which has an internal cuff making it slightly more difficult if we had gone for a shorter cuffed glove.  The wiring threaded through the jacket with ease and we are currently working on the best position for the controller which attaches to the lead coming from under the left side of the seat having been attached directly to the battery.  (At present some of the wiring is threaded through Jan’s hi-viz vest as can be seen from the picture).

There are 4 power levels for the gloves incremently rising from 25%, the first ride back in December Jan kept the gloves at 25% with the outside temperature on the bike showing at around 10 degrees for most of the ride.  The most recent ride-out to The British Ironworks at Oswestry it was colder with more of a wind chill and the gloves were on at 50% with the temperature around 6 – 7 degrees for most of the day.  This was more than comfortable and it is suggested in the Gerbing literature that it would need to be extremely cold to have the gloves at either 75 or 100%….. you would also have to ask yourself whether you would be out riding if it was very cold anyway, but for riders who have to commute all winter on their motorbikes they would be excellent.  There is an additional pouch on the outside of the glove and batteries can be fitted rather than having the wiring through to the bike battery, we have not as yet gone down that route but will let you know how they work out if we do.

It has to be said that a level of discipline is required in getting the gloves on and off.  The design is good in so far as the lead is to the left side i.e. the side the majority of riders will get on and off their bikes and also should you forget you are connected to the lead, it will release easily, however, it is best to get into a routine of connecting and disconnecting whilst sat on the bike and after a few rides it does become second nature.  The gloves can feel a little thick for when it comes to using the selector buttons on the bike for indicators, switching through the trip dials etc., but overall they are extremely comfortable and more importantly keep your hands “just right”.  We are hoping that our 2019 touring season which begins in April will not see Jan needing to wear heated gloves, instead the plan is to revert back to using the heated grips on the bike for spring / summer riding……it is highly likely though that the handlebar muffs will be being sold anytime soon…! 🙂

Our South West of Ireland Tour September 2018

This was the second tour of the 2018 touring season for us in Ireland and as with our April visit to County Donegal the country delivered on many levels, we were not as lucky with the weather on this visit having blue skies for only a couple of days but even when there are grey clouds around the dramatic scenery of the Emerald Isle simply takes on another “face”.

Yes we had some rain, it is very unusual to visit Ireland and not encounter some of the wet stuff but as we keep being reminded by the locals – “oh! you don’t come here for the beep,beep, weather” 🙂  How true, what we do go for is the rugged feel to the countryside, the drama of the Wild Atlantic Way and the warm welcomes received at every coffee stop and at our hotels.  Joe at Ballyrafter House gave us wonderful hospitality when we called for morning coffee and freshly baked scones on day 2 of the tour and this was equalled by the Roadhouse cafe where we called on our way back to Dublin on the last day – they had laid up a long table for us for brunch and nothing was too much trouble for them 🙂

It’s hard to say which was our favourite ride during this particular tour given the change in scenery encountered each day.  We rode through the Wicklows on day 1, along the south coast of County Cork on day 2, visited Mizen Head – Ireland’s most southerly point on day 3, followed the Wild Atlantic Way on the Ring of Kerry on day 4, crossed the Shannon by ferry on day 5, were blown away by the sparse openness of Connemara on day 6 and marvelled at the beauty of Ballycroy National Park on day 7 – we would have equally been amazed by Achill Island on that particular ride-out but the rain decided to scupper our plans but as it turned out not our spirits….. there is something comforting turning up at your lunch stop to a roaring fire when you have been riding through a downpour 🙂

For many of our clients this was their first visit to Ireland and the majority felt that Connemara was “up there” as being one of their favourite places on the tour.  It is probably due to the fact that we are all so used to lots of traffic and the hustle and bustle of towns and cities but when you visit this West Coast county you feel like you are stepping out of the “rat race” and riding through a wilderness which is packed with beautiful scenery, small hamlets, the rugged coastline and the mountains of the National Park known as the “Twelve Bens or Pins”.  Whilst we did not have blue skies for this particular day we did have dry weather and all 12 of the Bens could be seen – unlike a visit there back in 2013 when our group were lucky to see 2 of them!

No matter the weather we always look forward to returning to Ireland and will be visiting the counties of Donegal and Mayo in May 2019 – it may seem a long way off as we sit here writing this but we are sure it will come around before we know it 🙂

 

Did “The Rain in Spain, Stay mainly on the Plain”?

When you plan tours to Spain in late May early June it is with a reasonable expectation that there will be warm sun on your back every day….. however, it would seem that the turbulent weather our world seems to be experiencing affected Spain this year and whilst we did not have torrential rain neither did we have the wall to wall blue skies we would have liked!  In fact we rode passed snow banks on one ride-out……. Did this put out tour groups off?  No – as one pillion rightly commented, “if we had wanted hot sunshine we would have booked on a beach holiday in Marbella” 🙂

In June 2017 we ran our first tour of Northern Spain and repeated it this year, the contrast in the depth of water in all of the rivers, lakes and reservoirs was incredible – the Yesa Reservoir in 2017 was very low whilst this year the water line was nearly at the height of some of the trees which have clearly had time to grow over recent years – but no matter what is going on in the reservoir the road around its shores is a terrific motorcycling route and one we never tire of returning to.  Which can be said of all the roads in Spain to be fair – they offer a very relaxing approach to motorcycle touring, no potholes, wide open sweepies when you want them, some technical climbs and hairpins to add variety and all with so very little traffic – the only thing you have difficulty doing in Spain (unless you are near the major cities), is practice your overtaking skills!!!

This is the first year we have run back-to-back tours in Spain starting with our Northern Spain tour sailing from Plymouth on the 27th of May and riding through the Southern Pyrenees, the beautiful provinces of Soria and Burgos and the Picos over the following 7 days returning our clients to Santander on the 4th of June where we met our next tour group who joined us for our Spanish Spa tour.  With the winter season being longer in Northern Spain than usual, both tour groups were treated to very colourful rides each day due to the wonderful displays of wildflowers and poppies edging our routes.  There was also the fact that the daily temperatures were lower than expected which actually is no bad thing when you are in full motorcycle gear – some days could certainly have done with being warmer than the 12 – 14 degrees we had, but on the whole we had around 18 degrees for the riding and sunshine at most of our stops – apart from one of our transition days on the Northern Spain tour when we did get wet coming over the Santa Ines pass – all part of the fun though!

No matter what the weather it would never deter us from returning to Northern Spain, in fact we already have tours planned there next year!  The warm welcome at all of our stops more than make up for any cold days, the roads are a dream to ride and the scenery is outstanding – Spain is a remarkable country and one we will never tire of revisiting.

 

A very dry Scottish Borders in May

When we plan a tour it is usually well in advance and obviously we have no control over the weather and can only hope for dry days with sunshine being an added bonus.  However, no one could have predicted the near perfect riding conditions we encountered last weekend on our tour of The Scottish Borders as can be seen from this photo of us riding away from the Talla Reservoir.

Temperatures were in the high teens to low 20’s for riding resulting in a lot of ice cream being purchased and eaten (purely to help cool everyone down of course!) We rode through Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland on our way to the Borders on quiet back roads which rewarded us with some spectacular views over the moorlands and beyond.  It was a shame to ride up Hartside though and see the cafe in ruins after it sadly caught fire over the winter, there were still several motorbikes parked outside using the mobile cafe which was on site and we hope the main cafe will re-open one of these days soon.

During our stay in The Borders we visited a lot of coffee shops!  Several lochs, enjoyed the grippy asphalt which Scottish roads are known for, soaked up some stunning views, crossed the border into England on one of the ride-outs to enjoy the wide open spaces of the Northumberland National Park before returning to Scotland via Carter Bar and had a lot of laughs along the way.  Around a third of the tour group were new to us but by the end of  day one everyone had gelled and as we often say “2 ingredients needed to make a great tour are the weather and the people” – we were fortunate to have both on this.

Due to some excellent marketing the NorthCoast500 (NC500) is now on many a motorcyclists “must ride” list and whilst we are in full agreement with that, it has become difficult for a larger group to tour the coastal road mainly due to the lack of accommodation.  We have run tours in the past in The Cairngorms and also Argyll & Bute and plan to return to both of these areas at some point in the future.  The Highlands is also on our list but if you are short on time and would like to experience some of the open roads of Scotland why not visit The Borders?  Dumfries & Galloway is on your doorstep with the Galloway Forest to enjoy, the Northumberland National Park and Kielder Forest and Reservoir are easily do-able on a days ride-out or stay within the confines of the Borders themselves and you will not be disappointed.  The variety in roads and scenery is such that you need to take time and stop for photos, enjoy coffee and cakes or scones at the welcoming cafes and even if you are not blessed with as good a weather window as we had we are more than certain that you will return to the area more than once – we have and plan to run another tour here in the future 🙂

 

 

County Donegal April 2018

Our first tour of 2018 has been and gone and we have had a great few days in County Donegal with a group of clients who took the spirit of Ireland to heart.  Given the time of year and the winter Ireland has experienced we were extremely lucky with the weather – certainly not warm enough to dip a toe in the Atlantic but in the main dry and clear and when it came to our visit to The Slieve League sea cliffs it was a superb day with blue skies.

This tour had been a long time coming with it being over 5 months since our last tour, whilst we enjoy the planning elements of a tour over the winter there is nothing quite like riding the roads, taking in the scenery and meeting the people.  The phrase “the craic in Ireland…” is often quoted but it is so incredibly true – everywhere we went people came up to us to ask where we’d travelled from and what would we be doing in Donegal, all of the cafes and visitors locations gave us a terrific welcome, not to forget the scones which are a “must have” whilst on the Emerald Isle 🙂

Laura checking her brake light!

Alex needed a swap from the Thruxton

The tour was not without its challenges – a sticking brake light for Laura, a swap in pillion seats for Alex and a puncture for Steve!  All thankfully resolved, although it did involve quite a bit of time on the ground for Geraint for the brakelight and puncture 🙂

The County of Donegal is almost beyond description which is why we never tire of returning to the area – in fact our 2019 tour is already scheduled for May – let us know if you are interested at info@dragonmototours.co.uk    The area has The Wild Atlantic Way coastal route, Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head and the Glenveagh National Park to name only a few of the rugged and beautiful locations.  The roads in places may be undulating given the peat the tarmac is laid over but in the main the grippy asphalt and sweeping bends through the National Park make for a seriously smile inducing ride – and when you turn a corner to see a (fortunately..) extinct volcano your day is complete!!!

We have several “thank yous” to do for this tour – Ireland for being as dramatic and stunning as ever, the weather for being kind to us – only a bit of mizzle with the a downpour coming as we checked in at Dublin Port to return home!  The cafes and people we visited for being so welcoming and last but not least our clients for making the tour such a lot of fun 🙂  A very big THANK YOU from The Dragons

 

 

 

 

 

Riding empty roads in Wales!

We’re in March, so you have to ask is it winter or spring?  It has been difficult to tell here in the UK of late with snow, ice and gales lashing our shores in the last week or so and as a result there has certainly been a reduced presence of motorbikes on our roads.  With a “weather window” presenting itself yesterday we decided it was about time to get some much needed miles under our belts, particularly as our first tour starts in just over 5 weeks (lets hope the snow has gone by then!!!).

One of our Versys 1000’s still needs to achieve the first service mileage so it was a double green ride-out for us and within no time of setting off heads were turning at the sound and sight of two motorbikes – they were either pleased (like us), to hear the Kawasaki engine noise or more likely thought we were a bit mad……. particularly as the temperatures never really rose much above 4 or 5 degrees for the majority of the day!  As our day progressed we did cross paths with around ten other motorcyclists who were keen to enjoy the dry roads.

Naturally, as can be seen here, we collected our fair share of road dust and it has to be said road salt which we are well aware puts many motorcyclists off taking their bikes out at this time of year, but a good rinse off at the end of the ride soon sorted that out 🙂

Jan rides with handlebar muffs at this time of year which are easy to fit and with the heated grips on low make for a very comfortable ride.  These particular ones are Oxford and fit well on the Versys albeit a slight adjustment had to be made whereby the original handguards have had to be removed – again an easy enough process.

As we headed into the Snowdonia National Park there was evidence of the snowfall experienced last week, but not as significant as we had expected.  There had clearly been a lot of drifting snow, one thing to be mindful of is to look out for running water across the roads as the snow thaws and particularly on the higher ground we kept a close watch on the temperature being mindful that some of the areas not exposed to much sunshine could have been icy.  Other than that the roads were dry and an added bonus were that they were empty of traffic 🙂   We called in at Llangynog for a warming brew before riding over the Berwyn Mountains, lunch at Trawsfynydd lake and with an afternoon stop at A&D Motorcycles in Denbigh we covered just shy of 200 miles.  The scenery was, as ever in Snowdonia, stunning, with the peak of Snowdon just under some cloud as we rode past, however, the surrounding landscape was given all the more clarity in the crisp air.

With the first of our tours starting next month and one of them being based in North Wales there is much to look forward to – we’re just hoping that the roads in April in Snowdonia will be as dry and as empty as we enjoyed yesterday 🙂

 

 

 

Chasing some Winter sun – “Dragon” style!

Conversations regarding where to head to for some winter sun tend to be based either around a ski-ing trip or visiting warmer climes such as the Caribbean or Australia and New Zealand but not for us!   We took ourselves over to France and Spain for just shy of two weeks on a research trip, checking out hotels and new routes for tours we plan to undertake in 2019 and 2020 – the weather was mixed it’s fair to say but worth everyone of the over 4,000 miles we covered 🙂

Admittedly we had some cooler temperatures through France but when you are greeted just over the border into Spain by this sign in the foothills of the Pyrenees you know the trip was worth it.  Not every Repsol garage has the good grace to decorate their signage with a motorbike but perhaps they should?! 🙂  There is still a (some may say), old fashioned feel to the majority of fuel stations in Spain where an attendant serves you, we find it rare to have automated pumps over there outside of the major cities.  Ordinarily when on a tour it’s quicker to go to a multi pump station to get as many bikes filled up as possible but when it is the Spanish way you just have to go with the flow and usually there will be a cafe or bar nearby where you can take in a coffee or enjoy some local tapas and fuel the bikes at a slower pace.  The fuel station facilities are always immaculate too, something some of the UK locations could learn a lesson from.

Aside from that, in Spain the fuel is a good price too, which cannot be said for France at the moment which is actually slightly more expensive than the UK based on current exchange rates and some tax levied earlier this year.  They still have terrific riding roads though albeit something you should be aware of is a new legislation passed recently which comes into effect from July of this year (2018) when all national routes will be reduced from 90kph to 80kph

As for Spanish roads, well they never fail to amaze along with some of the most stunning scenery.  We have ridden in America in the past and many parts of Spain remind us of the states of Colorado and Utah  – no wonder a lot of “spaghetti westerns” were filmed in Spain.  As can be seen from this ride near Teruel, at this time of year, you can be riding at elevations of over 5,000 ft for miles and hardly see a sole and surprisingly very little snow too considering it is February!

Which ever way you choose to soak up some valuable vitamin D over the winter we hope you enjoy yourselves and just think it’s not too long now until Spring 🙂